The word port tends to imply that water is nearby, so in the public’s mind it may therefore be easy to assume that water-related issues take priority for the governing bodies that operate ports such as the Port of Shelton. After all, the logic goes, water is why they exist in the first place, right?
Not exactly. In the Port of Shelton’s case, waterfront properties are just one part of a much larger puzzle. The overall mission is to “develop, enhance and protect the airport, industrial properties, waterfront and all other public assets entrusted and managed by the Port.”
Another common misconception is that ports are responsible for fulfilling needs such as space for local events. “It’s pretty common for community needs to arise and everyone to look to ports to make something happen,” says Smith. “That’s really not our mission at all. We’re not allowed to gift public funds. We’re actually set up to make money like a business.”
Making decisions about the Port’s multi-faceted properties requires a long-term strategy and clear guidelines. That’s why the Port’s commissioners have an annual retreat where they set their priorities for the year. “We publish those results,” says Port Commissioner Dick Taylor. “Our meetings are open to the public and our decision-making process is open and transparent.”
The commissioners have developed a set of five priorities to help them make decisions, ranked from highest to lowest return on investment. At the top of the list: capital projects that directly result in new jobs and investment.
One recent example was a successful proposal to the Washington State Community Economic Revitalization Board (CERB) for a $500,000 grant and $1,500,000 low-interest loan. “The proposal to apply for the partnership grant was approved unanimously,” says Smith. The funding is in the form of a Committed Partnership with Belco Forest Products that will include the construction of a 30,000-square-foot warehouse building with an estimated private investment of at least $750,000. There will be an estimated job increase of 38 permanent jobs created over the next five years.
The second priority: capital investments that may not create new jobs, but have a positive return on investment, making the Port and airport more self-sufficient. Projects like a new tenant administration building, road repairs, and installing telemetry equipment fall into this category. “These are not creating new jobs, but supporting the jobs that are here and providing a positive return,” says Smith. “We do a lot of work in that regard.” Typically, such decisions don’t involve public input beyond regularly scheduled commission meetings.
Third are capital investments that are strategic in nature, have a reasonable chance to create new jobs and new investment, and have a positive return on investment over time. These include investing in the commercial/aquaculture dock, decommissioning the fairgrounds, and acquiring property at the marina and the airport.
The fourth priority is capital investments to maintain and/or enhance infrastructure using primarily the financial resources or other agencies, i.e. the marina pier, boat ramp, airport runway and pavement overlay and taxiway lighting.
In fifth and last place are capital investments that do not create jobs and have a low probability of creating any return on investment. One current example is the Marina’s south dock replacement, which will cost an estimated $2.8 million. “We’ve been struggling with what to do about the Marina,” says Smith. “When we have that kind of price tag for a project that brings in no jobs and no more revenue, is that a priority?”
To determine financial impact, the Port has hired appraisal firm. “They’re going to do an evaluation and see what the marina is worth,” says Smith. “We’re still exploring.”
Port Commissioners have held three public hearings on the topic to solicit input. “It was a proactive move on their part,” Smith notes. “They weren’t required to do it, but they chose to get public opinion by reaching out to constituents who may think of it only as a marina issue that doesn’t affect them. They don’t realize that it’s their tax dollars in question.”
Although Commissioners are not required to have public hearings on all decisions, Taylor says the feedback they receive is valuable. “From a commission standpoint, we welcome people and welcome their comments,” he says. “The more input we get and the more informed our taxpayers are, the better we can serve them.”
To learn more, visit the Port of Shelton website, or call 360-426-1151.